The front page story that ran in the March 13 edition of the Bangor Daily News, headlined, "Foster parents question state's commitment," lacked some critical background information that would provide a context for some of the concerns raised by some foster parents in our system.
The foster parent survey that was featured in that story was just one part of an extensive 320-page report prepared by the Institute for Public Sector Innovation at the Muskie School for Public Policy, titled the "Maine Children's Services Reform Report." It reflected 22 recommendations advanced to the legislature's Joint Committee on Health and Human Services by 82 stakeholders in five working groups who worked together for 10 months.
The work groups were a cross section of young people in DHHS custody, providers, state workers and community members; and as the report concludes, "demonstrated commitment and dedication throughout a process designed to enhance service delivery for children and families across the state." These recommendations further the department's systems redesign to support better outcomes for vulnerable Maine children and their families.
The survey and the responses it engendered is only a piece of a complicated and changing picture of Maine's foster care and behavioral health systems. While perhaps reflective of some providers, it does not tell the whole story. The charge of the Children's Services Reform Group was to address specific child welfare and children's mental health reform initiatives that were pending before the Legislature, and assess which ones met the criteria of increasing the number of children who have permanent families; supporting vulnerable children in their homes and communities, and providing the right services at the right time. Though the department had considered changing the rates of reimbursement to foster parents from five levels to three, a decision was made not to pursue this plan by the time the reform group was given its charge.
While the reform group agreed that foster parents must be valued and encouraged, our primary focus was on our philosophical direction of permanency and a family for every child. Armed with national data that showed that Maine had far more children in care than the national average, and that they stayed in care too long, we set out to create options for children to reach permanency. We were charged to address key areas in our children's services system that would improve outcomes for children.
Our goal was to assure that children and families get the support they need so no child stays in care or in the system any longer than absolutely necessary. This change in philosophy to a "family first" approach began four years ago, and has been supported and developed further by Gov. Baldacci's administration. The rate the department pays foster parents who care for children in Maine should be based on the needs of the child, and should decrease as the needs decrease. As each child improves – and needs less intensive care – it's natural that the amount paid to care giver changes. Again the data showed that our rates of payment to foster parents were very competitive nationally. Our mission is to help Maine people live safe, healthy and productive lives.
We value and respect foster parents and the difficult job they do to help us achieve that mission on behalf of so many children in Maine. During the 10 months that the stakeholders met, they came forward with a series of findings that will help this department as it moves to streamline and deliver the right services at the right time, and increase support services to keep children in their homes and communities.
We are undergoing a major reorganization of our services with the goal of improving the way we respond to both our staff and Maine citizens. The 22 recommendations included within the "Maine Children's Services Reform Report" will help us as we work to enhance our partnerships including but not limited to foster parents, and to assure more positive outcomes for all of the children and youth in our care.
Maine Department of Health and Human Services
16 March 2006